It’s confusing isn’t it? Problem Solving Officers, Community Policing Officers, PSO Sergeants, Neighborhood Services Coordinators, PSA Lieutenants. Who are all these people and what role do they play in community policing? And, by the way, what the heck is community policing anyway? I’ll try to shed some light on the subject.

Most police officers work in a division called patrol. These are the men and women who come to your aid when you dial 911. They perform an incredibly valuable service, particularly if a crime is still in progress.

For chronic problems, however, calling 911 isn’t always effective. Once the patrol officers wrap up their reports and leave, the troublemakers return and the criminal activity continues.

Community policing is a program specifically designed to solve stubborn, chronic, public safety problems.

The city is divided into 57 community policing beats, each containing about 5,000 to 7,000 residents. Each beat has (or will have) a dedicated Problem Solving Officer (PSO). The PSOs used to be called Community Policing Officers, but the Police Department changed the name a couple of years ago. The PSOs do not respond to 911 emergency calls. Their mandate is to work with the community on long-term problem solving.

To understand how community policing works, let’s take a brief detour into the theory. Community policing is based on three principals:

  • Community partnership
  • Problem solving
  • Geographic focus

At its core, community policing is a partnership between the neighborhood and the police. The PSOs become an integral part of the community they serve. And the neighbors play an active role in solving problems. Each side brings important information to the table. The neighbors usually have in-depth knowledge of the troublemakers and criminal activity. The PSO has access to legal and enforcement resources. Working together as partners, they have a much better chance of achieving meaningful results.

While 911 policing responds to emergencies, community policing solves problems. PSOs have the time to sit down with the community and gain a real understanding of the local situation. And they have the flexibility to stick with a particular problem until it is actually resolved.

As a practical matter, community policing efforts are focused on small, well defined geographical areas (a.k.a. beats). It’s pretty hard for an officer to become an expert in local concerns if his or her area stretches halfway across the city. And it’s pretty hard for the neighbors to sustain a nine month project to get rid of a drug house if they are working with a different officer every week. For community policing to be successful, it requires a fairly narrow geographic focus.

To fill out the rest of the community policing organization chart on the police side, the PSOs report to PSO Sergeants, who in turn report to PSA Lieutenants. (PSA stands for Police Service Area. I know. The acronyms will drive you crazy.) Neighborhood Service Coordinators (NSCs) are community organizers. They help each neighborhood organize and develop its working partnership with the police.

The neighborhoods surrounding Lake Merritt fall into PSA 1, PSA 2, and PSA 3 (map, website, Yahoo group). (See a citywide map showing all the PSAs.)

In particular, the neighborhoods of Adams Point (beat 14X: map, info, Yahoo group), Grand Lake (beats 14Y [map, info] and 16X [map, info]: Yahoo group), and Haddon/China Hills (15X: map, info, Yahoo group) belong to PSA 3. Hoang Banh is the NSC for these neighborhoods (as well as a Grand Lake Guardian contributor).

For information on the boundaries of, and the NSC for, other beats, try this clickable map.

City Council Resolution 72727 defines Oakland’s community policing program. Another good resource on community policing is the Community Policing Consortium.

Would you like to make your neighborhood stronger and safer by participating in community policing? For all the details, contact Neighborhood Services Coordinator, Hoang Banh, at 238-6566 or

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, next time I’ll take a look at what is actually happening in community policing this fall. Please chime in with news about how community policing is working in your neighborhood.